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Posts Tagged ‘political rights’

Tree of Liberty

434px-Tree_of_libertyAberdeen has traditionally been viewed as a rather conservative area, and following the French Revolution, although there were sympathetic individuals, it would appear there was no formal branch of the Friends of the People established. There were organisations active all over Scotland, in nearby Dundee, Montrose and St Cyrus, and those groups sent delegates to the 1st Friends Convention in December 1792. Most notable was the group in Dundee, where there was a very active Dundee Friends of Liberty. There was an earlier group in Portsoy, Banffshire, called the Portsoy Universal Liberty Club. This group formed in January 1792 and appear to have been active until mid-1792. It corresponded with the Jacobin Club in France, submitted an abolition of the slave trade petition and stated its aims: “…to correspond with other Clubs and Societies throughout the world, on the glorious cause of Liberty; the Rights of Man; a just free and equal representation, in Parliament; the abolition of the Slave Trade, and other disgraceful and oppressive laws existing in Great Britain”.

At this time a symbolic and defiant act was the planting of a tree ‘of liberty’. Inspired by the American Revolution, during the French Revolution, a tree was planted wherever the French troops established themselves. The tree was garnished with garlands and emblems, as a symbol of renewal and liberation. Trees were planted all across Scotland and were often accompanied by crowd disturbances of some kind. A tree was planted in Aberdeen in 1792 and there are also records of other trees being erected across Scotland, in Dundee, Fochabers and Stonehaven. For example, in Dundee in November 1792, rioters erected a tree with the scroll ‘Liberty, Equality and No Sinecures’ and decorated it with apples and lights.

References: Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, volume VII, 1793 – 1800 (M. Dorothy George, London, 1942), Popular Disturbances in Scotland 1780 – 1815 (Kenneth Logue, J. Donald, Edinburgh, 1979), Scotland and the French Revolution (Henry William Meikle, J Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow, 1912) and Scottish Society 1707 – 1830: Beyond Jacobitism (Chris Whatley, Manchester University Press, 2000).

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Chartism grew out of disillusionment at the failure of the First Reform Act of 1832 and the limited impact it had had in achieving political and social reform. Beginning in 1838 the Chartist movement was Britain wide and demanded six points: votes for all men over 21, vote by secret ballot, no property qualification for prospective members of parliament, payment of members of parliament, constituencies of equal size and annual parliaments. The Chartist movement existed through a number of phases following the petitioning of Parliament in 1838, 1842 and 1848.

The Aberdeen Charter Union was a branch of the National Charter Association (which had been established in mid-1840 in an attempt to unite together all previous local groups). The Aberdeen Union following on from the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and the key personnel were mainly male artisans: the Chairman was John Legge, a stonemason and there was also Archibald McDonald, flaxdresser.

Later, the Chairman was John MacPherson, a combmaker. The Union from 1841 rented a hall in George Street, and in 1842, bought premises in Blackfriars Street for use as a political and educational centre.

Related entries: Aberdeen Female Radical Association, Aberdeen Working Men’s Association and William Lindsay, bookseller.

Popular radicalism and working class movements in Aberdeen c.1790-1850 (Robert Duncan, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1976), ‘Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838 – 1842 (Robert Duncan, Northern Scotland, 1981), ‘Chartism in Aberdeen: Radical Politics and Culture’ (Robert Duncan, Covenant, Charter, and Party: Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottish History, Terry Brotherstone (ed.), Aberdeen University Press, 1989) and ‘Chartism in Aberdeen’ (Stuart McCalman, Journal of Scottish Labour History Society, 1970)

Sources: unknown.

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Chartism grew out of disillusionment at the failure of the First Reform Act of 1832 and the limited impact it had had in achieving political and social reform. Beginning in 1838 the Chartist movement was Britain wide and demanded six points: votes for all men over 21, vote by secret ballot, no property qualification for prospective members of parliament, payment of members of parliament, constituencies of equal size and annual parliaments. The Chartist movement existed through a number of phases following the petitioning of Parliament in 1838, 1842 and 1848.

The Aberdeen Working Men’s Association was a local organisation formed in July 1838, based on the model of the London Working Men’s Association. The President was John Mitchell, shoemaker, then newsagent and stationer (he sold chartist literature). Mitchell’s shop in Correction Wynd was for a time the base for the Association (later the Chartists rented premises at 41 Queen Street). The Secretary of the Association was John Fraser, shoemaker. Other members of the Association committee were mainly male artisans, such as John Legge, stonemason, and Archibald McDonald, flaxdresser. The Association like other organisations across Britain were charged with gathering names for the national petition. The Association also published its own news-sheet, the Aberdeen Patriot, and later another title called the Northern Vindicator.

The Association published a pamphlet in c.1838 outlining their grievances and objects/rules. It called on men: “to unite in demanding Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Annual Parliaments, as the most effectual means of promoting the moral and social improvements of the Working Classes”. The pamphlet also emphasised that the working classes should unite as one, and not depend any longer on those ‘who style themselves our “superiors” co-operating with us’. A key element of the Association was educational improvement, and the pamphlet called for a national system of education, noted the influence of the Mechanics’ Institutions and stated an object was to remove laws which prevented free circulation of thought through the medium of a ‘cheap and honest press’.

The Association split in May 1839, following a national trend, whereby Chartists supporters were divided over which tactics to use to achieve their goal, either by moral or by physical force. The outcome was that the President John Mitchell resigned and formed his own splinter group, The Artisans’ Association.

Related entries: Aberdeen Charter Union, Aberdeen Female Radical Association and William Lindsay, bookseller.

Address to the Working Classes by the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association: Together with the Objects and Rules of the Association (unknown, Aberdeen, undated, c.1838), Popular radicalism and working class movements in Aberdeen c.1790-1850 (Robert Duncan, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1976), ‘Artisans and proletarians: Chartism and working class allegiance in Aberdeen, 1838 – 1842 (Robert Duncan, Northern Scotland, 1981), ‘Chartism in Aberdeen: Radical Politics and Culture’ (Robert Duncan, Covenant, Charter, and Party: Traditions of Revolt and Protest in Modern Scottish History, Terry Brotherstone (ed.), Aberdeen University Press, 1989) and ‘Chartism in Aberdeen’ (Stuart McCalman, Journal of Scottish Labour History Society, 1970)

Sources: Address to the Working Classes by the Aberdeen Working Men’s Association: Together with the Objects and Rules of the Association (unknown, Aberdeen, undated, c.1838).

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1884 would appear to have been a landmark year, which would prove to be the spark for further developments in the later 1880s and 1890s:

  • Rev. Alexander Webster moved from Glasgow to Aberdeen and he was to play a key part in influencing young socialists like James Leatham and Harry Hill Duncan (July)
  • 3rd Reform Act demonstration with the biggest procession (c.50,000) since the time of the 1st Reform Act in 1832 (August)
  • British Trades Union Congress in Aberdeen, with a notable speech by Rev. Alexander Webster (September)
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society (October)
  • Aberdeen Radical Association formed (November)
  • Working men elected to town council (November)

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The Reform League was founded nationally in 1865, with a Scottish League following soon after. The aim of the League was ‘manhood suffrage’ and a common theme was ‘no taxation without representation’. The League was formed to campaign for a Second Reform Act (following the First Reform Act in 1832).

A branch in Aberdeen was established following a meeting in September 1866. The Chairman was John Sherar, ironmonger, and the Secretary was Unitarian minister, Rev. William Sharman. Also part of the local League were the former Chartist James MacPherson and George Middleton (bookseller and prominent member of the local secularist society). The Reform League President Edmond Beales visited Aberdeen in October 1866.

The League disbanded following the enactment of the Second Reform Act in 1867/1868.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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1884 Reform ActI love personal acts of rebellion, no matter how small. So as I find stories on my research travels I will post them under ‘Daily acts of rebellion’. Number 3 in this series is from the Franchise Bill demonstration on the 16th August 1884. This was the biggest procession since the 1832 Reform Act demonstration, with a reported 50,000 people marching against the actions of the House of Lords, after they had blocked the progress of the reform bill. The procession included the Reformers of 1832, the Chartists of 1846, the trades council, the individual trades and various Liberal Party organisations. The published descriptions of the procession are extremely detailed, describing each trade and the banners and mottoes they carried:

the brass finishers: ‘They carried…a large banner bearing the inscription “The Death Knell of Hereditary Legislators”‘.

the rope and sailmakers: ‘They did not shrink from hinting that an application of the rope’s end to the members of the House of Lords might have a beneficial effect’.

the plasterers: ‘ …demanded “Liberty and the people’s rights”‘.

Charles Napier’s workers: ‘A dead horse was placed in a cart labelled the House of Lords, and a knacker-man was represented as having newly slaughtered the animal. He held in his hand an axe, from which was dripping blood’…Following this cart was a number of cadger horses marked dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, barons, etc.’.

(source: The Franchise Bill Demonstration at Aberdeen on Saturday 16th August, 1884 (Aberdeen, 1884).

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On my research travels I am picking up those events which are ‘1sts’ for Aberdeen. Whether these events were 1st in Scotland or even Britain is another case. Aberdeen was usually late to the party…

  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the city council: 1884, G. Macconnochie and J. Forbes
  • British Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1884
  • Women delegates on Aberdeen Trades Union Council: 1884, Jemima Moir and Mrs Slessor representing the Work-women’s Protective and Benefit Society
  • Working class men nominated by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council and elected to the school board: 1885
  • Socialist publishing press: 1889, James Leatham
  • May Day march: 1890
  • Anarchist group: 1891, Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, later named Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group
  • Aberdeen South Labour General Election candidate (as Scottish United Trades Councils Labour Party): 1892, Henry Hyde Champion
  • Aberdeen North Labour General Election candidate (as Independent Labour): 1895, John Lincoln Mahon
  • Social Democratic Federation councillor: 1895, William Cooper, Woodside
  • Independent Labour Party General Election candidate: 1896, Tom Mann, Aberdeen North
  • Scottish Trade Union Congress held in Aberdeen: 1898
  • President of Scottish Trade Union Congress: 1898, John Keir, President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council
  • Social Democratic Federation General Election candidate: 1906, Tom Kennedy, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen North): 1918, Frank Rose
  • Communist Party General Election candidate: 1928, Aitken Ferguson, Aberdeen North
  • Labour Party majority on the city council: 1945
  • Communist Party councillor: 1945, St Clement’s ward, Tom Baxter (although there had been a self proclaimed Bolsehevist, Arthur Fraser Macintosh, in Torry in 1919)
  • Labour Party MP (Aberdeen South): 1966, Donald Dewar
  • Officer of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (General Secretary/Deputy General Secretary): 1969 – 1975 and 1975 – 1986, James Milne, former President of Aberdeen Trades Union Council, first as Deputy then as General Secretary.

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